In this post I’m going to show you how to make a simple kimchi recipe. Because if you google “how to make kimchi” I guarantee you’ll no two recipes will be the same and some will be quite complicated. I’ve read that there are over 100 types of kimchi in Korea, kimchi’s country of origin. This is a testament to the incredible variety of different ways to make kimchi!
Still, there are some unifying features.
1. The veggies
For the most part, the base of vegetables is Chinese (also called Napa) cabbage, garlic and ginger. The most common vegetables added to that are green onions, daikon radish and carrots. This is pretty much what I use, except for the carrots (I’m just not a carrot fan) and are the veggies I’ve included in this simple kimchi recipe.
2. The spice
The next unifying feature is the spice which is usually dried red chili flakes. I actually used to use hot sauce which is totally acceptable albeit perhaps not the most traditional method.
3. The paste
And finally, most recipes call for making a paste of the chili flakes with the ginger and garlic (often with a starchy base like rice flour) that is then mixed with the vegetables. I skip the starchy base in my recipe as it does take a little more time and skill.
After those three basics, you’ll find tons of variations. For example, many recipes pre-soak the veggies in a salt brine which supposedly allows more flavor to infuse the veggies. Many recipes call for a little sugar, fish sauce or anchovies and of course there are dozens of different types of vegetables and even fruit.
But this simple kimchi recipe sticks with the basics and is a great starting point if you’re making kimchi for the first time. For a printable recipe (but without visuals), scroll down to the end of this post.
Makes approximately two twelve ounce jars.
1. Trim ends of cabbage and chop any way you want – thin or thick strips is fine. Chop the daikon radish and scallions as well.
2. Add the salt to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Let sit for an hour or two. The salt will draw out the water. This is known as the “dry salt” method and the one I prefer. If you don’t want to wait a few hours you can simply crush and squeeze the veggies with your hands. Do this for a minute or two until the veggies get nice and wet from the water that is released.
The other method is known as brining which soaks the veggies for several hours (or overnight) in a salt water solution. This method allows more flavor to infuse the vegetables but requires a lot more time (and patience).
3. In a food processor, blend the garlic, ginger and chili flakes into a paste.
4. Thoroughly mix the cabbage, radish, scallions and optional fish sauce with the paste in a bowl. Don’t do this with your bare hands though! I made this mistake once. It took a few hours for my hands to stop burning. Either use some rubber gloves or a kitchen tool.
4. Pack mixture into glass mason jars with some sort of kitchen tool with a blunted end.
The wooden tool pictured is actually a pastry maker but it works beautifully as a veggie stomper. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available on Amazon.
But you can check out this vegetable stomper which is more specific to fermenting vegetables.
5. Press mixture firmly into jars until the water level starts rising. This is the key!
Here’s another angle (and yeah it’s messy but fun!):
It’s this anaerobic salty brine solution in which the magic of fermentation happens. Bad bacteria can NOT form in this brine solution. Continue pressing until everything is submerged under the water. Leave at least an inch between the top of the water and the top of the jar.
6. Put the lids on and leave the jars at room temperature for 2-7 days. Open the lids every day to release the gasses that form as a byproduct of fermentation. If the water level rises, drain some off. If the vegetables rise above the level of the water, pack them back under the water.
7. Taste the kimchi after 2 days. It should taste pleasantly sour. If not, continue to let it ferment and taste it every day until you find the taste acceptable. Transfer to the fridge where it will continue to ferment (and the taste will change!) albeit at a much slower pace. It will last for at least six months.
8. If you’re a kimchi addict like myself and will plow through two jars of kimchi fairly quickly, double or even triple the amounts above. This is how much kimchi I now make:
That will last me several months!
And finally, if you’re a kimchi addict like myself and want to expand your kimchi-making repertoire beyond the basics, check out The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi.
There are many different ways to make kimchi but this simple kimchi recipe is a great place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.